Thursday, February 28, 2013

Billy Collins: "Shoveling Snow with the Buddha"

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow. 


"Shoveling Snow with the Buddha" by Billy Collins, from Picnic, Lightning. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.

Photograph: Detail of image by Mike Yoder (originally color).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wu-Men: "Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring"

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

"Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring" by Wu-Men, from The Englightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, edited by Stephen Mitchell. © Harper Perennial, 1993.

Photograph: "Four Generations," by Mallory Renee Photography (originally black and white).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

R. T. Smith: "Hardware Sparrows"

Out for a deadbolt, light bulbs
and two-by-fours, I find a flock
of sparrows safe from hawks

and weather under the roof
of Lowe's amazing discount
store. They skitter from the racks

of stockpiled posts and hoses
to a spill of winter birdseed
on the concrete floor. How

they know to forage here,
I can't guess, but the automatic
door is close enough,

and we've had a week
of storms. They are, after all,
ubiquitous, though poor,

their only song an irritating
noise, and yet they soar
to offer, amid hardware, rope

and handyman brochures,
some relief, as if a flurry
of notes from Mozart swirled

from seed to ceiling, entreating
us to set aside our evening
chores and take grace where

we find it, saying it is possible,
even in this month of flood,
blackout and frustration,

to float once more on sheer
survival and the shadowy
bliss we exist to explore.

"Hardware Sparrows" by R. T. Smith, from Messenger: Poems. © Louisiana State University Press, 2001.

Image: "Sparrows," acrylic painting by Spangles44 Blinkagain (originally color).

Monday, February 25, 2013

Robert Friend: "The Last Year"

This is the last year.
There will be no other,
but heartless nature
seemingly relents.
Never has a winter sun
spilled so much light,
never have so many flowers
dared such early bloom.
The air is brilliant, sharp.
Never have I taken
such long, long breaths.

Written after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

"The Last Year" by Robert Friend, from Dancing with a Tiger: Poems 1941-1998, edited by Edward Field, 2003. © Jean Shapiro Cantu.

Image: "Breath of Life," acrylic painting with charcoal overlay by Dawn Thibodeaux, 1998 (originally black and white).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Arthur Sze: "Frost"

Notice each windowpane has a different
Swirling pattern of frost etched on the glass.

And notice how slowly the sun melts
The glaze. It is indelible: a fossil of a fern,

Or a coelacanth, or a derelict who
Rummages in his pockets and pulls out a few

Apple cores. Notice the peculiar
angle of light in the slow shift of sunrise.

Where is the whir of the helicopter?
The search for escaped convicts in the city?

Be amazed at the shine and the wet.
Simply to live is a joy.

"Frost" by Arthur Sze, from The Redshifting Web: New & Selected Poems. © Copper Canyon Press, 1998.

Photograph: "Frost on Window," by Joni Niemelä, 2010 (originally color).

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mary O'Connor: "Standing Up in the Boat"

Off the Donegal Coast, 1922

In this moment
all seems possible and all is risked:
life, safety, the day’s catch
the voyage, the homecoming.

As waves pitch the currach,
nearly engulfing it, he stands
on a plunging, rearing ground,
the thrown rope hanging

between his hopeful face
and empty air, a huge blessing of rope,
coiled, spiralled, looping
towards his small reach, his unsteady stand.

Still here he is waiting, wet and salty
standing up on the lurch of the flimsy craft
leaning against air, against hope, in his proper
position to catch it, this rope

coming over to the weak inconstancy, himself—
now he takes a slight crouch, to be pushed a bit
up or down at the impact,  hands out
eyes open, face, heart:  here.

"Standing Up in the Boat" by Mary O'Connor, from Windows and Doors. © Finishing Line Press, 2012.

Image: "Off the Donegal Coast," oil on canvas by Jack Butler Yeats, 1922. This painting inspired the poem.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Marilyn Krysl: "Saying Things"

Three things quickly—pineapple, sparrowgrass, whale—
and then on to asbestos. What I want to say tonight is
words, the naming of things into their thing,
yucca, brown sugar, solo, the roll of a snare drum,
say something, say anything, you’ll see what I mean.
Say windmill, you feel the word fly out from under and away.
Say eye, say shearwater, alewife, apache, harpoon,
do you see what I’m saying, say celery, say Seattle,
say a whole city, say San Jose. You can feel the word
rising like a taste on the palate, say
tuning fork, angel, temperature, meadow, silver nitrate,
try carbon cycle, point lace, helium, Micronesia, quail.

Any word—say it—belladonna, screw auger, spitball,
any word goes like a gull up and on its way,
even lead lifts like a swallow from the nest
of your tongue. Say incandescent, bonnet, universal joint,
lint—oh I invite you to try it. Say cold cream,
corydalis, cotillion, cosmic dust,
you are all of you a generous and patient audience,
pilaster, cashmere, mattress, Washington pie,
say vise, inclinometer, enjambment, you feel your own voice
taking off like a swift, when you say a word you feel like
a gong that’s been struck, to speak is to step out of your skin,
stunned. And you’re a pulsar, finally you understand light
is both particle and wave, you can see it, as in
parlour—when do you get a chance to say parlour—
and now mackinaw, toad and ham wing their way
to the heaven of their thing. Say bellows, say sledge,
say threshold, cottonmouth, Russia leather,
say ash, picot, fallow deer, saxophone, say kitchen sink.

This is the birthday party for the mouth—it’s better than ice cream,
say waterlily, refrigerator, hartebeest, Prussian blue
and the word will take you, if you let it,
the word will take you along across the air of your head
so that you’re there as it settles into the thing it was made for,
adding to it a shimmer and the bird song of its sound,
sound that comes from you, the hand letting go
its dove, yours the mouth speaking the thing into existence,
this is what I’m talking about, this is called saying things.

"Saying Things" by Marilyn Krysl, from More Palamino, Please, More Fuchsia. © Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1980.

Image: Detail from "Speaking Words of Wisdom," pastel on paper by Sandra Conley (originally color).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

W. S. Merwin: "To Waiting"

You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone
who will be different
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you

meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself

with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long

"To Waiting" by W. S. Merwin, from Present Company. © Copper Canyon Press, 2001.

Photograph: "Girl Sitting and Waiting in an Urban Pavement Area," by Radu Razvan (originally black and white).


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Marianne Murphy Zarzana: "Saying Our Names"

Notice how just one syllable—
say Jack—can expand and become
the world, round and whole,
when it is a child’s name
being formed by a mother’s mouth.

I’ve overheard women in stores and airports,
restaurants and trains, sprinkling their talk
with the name of a brand new baby or
a grown child, say Morgen or Nora,
Michael or Kyle, Joseph or Ava-Rose,
singing each vowel and consonant
so they stand out, resonate
a pure bell whether the tone struck
be proud and strong, a major key,
or a diminished minor note.

Sometimes, when my daughter catches
her own name, Elaine May, part of a story
I am telling a sister over the phone,
later she’ll ask, quasi-annoyed,
were you talking about me?

Yes, endlessly, shamelessly, I tell stories
about you. I say those fluid syllables,
chosen for the meaning—light—
the music, and to honor your grandmothers,
chosen after discarding countless names.

Yes, I say them again and again and wonder
at the world they have become. Is this
how God says our names? Is this why sometimes
when I hear the wind rustling through the trees,
I turn and listen?

"Saying Our Names" by Marianne Murphy Zarzana. Published in Dust & Fire, 2002.   

Image: "Storyteller," acrylic painting by Kate Langlois (originally full color).


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ivan Jenson: "Hearing Things"

Lately, I have been
listening to people
and places
people sound like
words and laughter
sneezes and song
places sound like
the hissy fit of the wind
and the fender bending
clash of traffic or
the shriek of cloud
busting jets
and sometimes
I just sit back
and listen to myself
travel through time
like an HG Wells
in this soft
in the middle
and I swear
I sound
like a one-monk chant
in a temple
of wonder and doom

"Hearing Things" by Ivan Jenson. © Ivan Jenson.

Photograph: Unknown (originally color).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Benjamin Hoff: "Piglet's Song"

Let's find a Way today,
that can take us to tomorrow.
We'll follow that Way,
A Way like flowing water.

Let's leave behind,
the things that do not matter.
And we'll turn our lives,
to a more important chapter.

Let's take the time and try to find,
what real life has to offer.
And maybe then we'll find again,
what we had long forgotten.
Like a friend, true 'til the end,
it will help us onward.

The sun is high, the road is wide,
and it starts where we are standing.
No one knows how far it goes,
for the road is never-ending.

It goes away,
beyond what we have thought of.
It flows away,
Away like flowing water.

"Piglet's Song" by Benjamin Hoff, from The Te of Piglet. © Penguin Books, 1993.

Photograph: Unknown (originally black and white).


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Malena Mörling: "Happiness"

How far away is your happiness?
            How many inches?
How many yards?
            How many bus rides to work
and back?
            How many doorways
and stairwells?
            How many hours
awake in the dark
            belly of the night
which contains
            all the world’s bedrooms,
all dollhouse-sized?
            How far away is your happiness?
How many words?
            How many thoughts?
How much pavement?
            How much thread
in the enormous sewing machine
            of the present moment?

"Happiness" by Malena Mörling, from American Poetry Now, edited by Ed Ochester. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007.

Photograph: Untitled, by Elizabeth Krumbach (originally color, horizontal).


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Janet Loxley Lewis: "The Wonder of the World"

(for a choral piece by Alva Henderson, Autumn, 1979)

From the old stone
The carven words reproach me,
Beside the rows of quiet dead:

The wonder of the world,
The beauty and the power,
The shapes of things,
Their colors, lights and shades,
These I saw.
Look ye also
While life lasts.

Earth, air and upper air,
Earth, air and water I knew,
And the sun on my face.
The voices of women and men,
The shouting of children,
These I knew.
Harken ye, also.
Drink while life lasts
The wine of astonishment.

So spoke the stone.

[Poet's note:] The seven lines of the second stanza are taken from an
old Swedish gravestone, and are quoted by Olaus J.
Murie of Moose, Wyoming.

"The Wonder of the World" by Janet Lewis, from Poems Old and New 1918-1978. © Ohio University Press, 1981.

Photograph: Unknown (originally color).


Friday, February 15, 2013

Mary Oliver: "Mornings at Blackwater"

For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what will be, darling citizen.

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.
And live
your life.

"Mornings at Blackwater" by Mary Oliver, from Red Bird: Poems of Mary Oliver. © Beacon Press, 2009.

Photograph: Detail from "Hands Cupping Water," by Ray Davis (originally color).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pablo Neruda: "Sonnet XVII"

I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

"Sonnet XVII" by Pablo Neruda, from 100 Love Sonnets: Cien sonetos de amor, translated by Stephen Tapscott. © University of Texas Press, 1986. 

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

David Budbill: "Tomorrow"

we are
bones and ash,
the roots of weeds
poking through
our skulls.

simple clothes,
empty mind,
full stomach,
alive, aware,
right here,
right now.

Drunk on music,
who needs wine?

Come on,
let's go dancing
while we still
have feet.

"Tomorrow" by David Budbill, from While We've Still Got Feet. © Copper Canyon Press, 2005.

Photography credit: Unknown.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Li-Young Lee: "One Heart"

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, friend, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

"One Heart" by Li-Young Lee, from Book of My Nights. © BOA Editions Ltd., 2001.

Photograph: "Fractalius—Dove in Flight," photographic image by Bahman Farzad (originally black and white).


Monday, February 11, 2013

Ella Wheeler Wilcox: "Seeking for Happiness"

Seeking for happiness we must go slowly;
The road leads not down avenues of haste;
But often gently winds through by ways lowly,
Whose hidden pleasures are serene and chaste.
Seeking for happiness we must take heed
Of simple joys that are not found in speed.

Eager for noon-time's large effulgent splendour,
Too oft we miss the beauty of the dawn,
Which tiptoes by us, evanescent, tender,
Its pure delights unrecognised till gone.
Seeking for happiness we needs must care
For all the little things that make life fair.

Dreaming of future pleasures and achievements
We must not let today starve at our door;
Nor wait till after losses and bereavements
Before we count the riches in our store.
Seeking for happiness we must prize this—
Not what will be, or was, but that which is.

In simple pathways hand in hand with duty
(With faith and love, too, ever at her side),
May happiness be met in all her beauty
The while we search for her both far and wide.
Seeking for happiness we find the way
Doing the things we ought to do each day.

"Seeking for Happiness" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, from Poems of Purpose. © Gay & Hancock, 1919.

Photography credit: Detail from black-and-white image by unknown photographer.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Joy Harjo: "Eagle Poem"

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear;
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon, within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

"Eagle Poem" by Joy Harjo, from In Mad Love and War. © Wesleyan University Press, 1990.  

Photograph: "Silhouette of Bald Eagle Flying in Sky," by unknown artist (originally color).

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Jessie Dolch: "The Priest Writes His Desire"

For Thomas Hand, SJ, friend to Ruben Habito

Shadows on the scans.
Nothing they can do, doctors say.
So he sits with a pen in his hand
to tell his friends. He is not surprised;
he had been weakening every day.

And God has manifested in his good health
for more than eighty years.
Now, he writes, it is "a blessing
to have things clear, with no need
to make a lot of difficult decisions."

Now, God manifests in his final illness
"and this is great," he writes,
though perhaps no one will understand
as they see only the loss and darkness ahead
while he stands in the light of transformation.

Some may talk to him of heaven
and comfort and the things to come.
All this, he knows well,
but now, he sits in the night
with the pen in his hand

and thinks that with tumors and shadows
in his stomach and lungs
he has no interest in the land
of the future. Why should he?
when right now the moon is full

and even near midnight
casts shadows in the dark – of the trees,
of the parish house where he lives,
of the chapel's holy cross,
of his own hand as he writes
What I really want
is to become the Flow of the Spirit...
to fully enter into the movement of Reality.
No scenarios about what's to come.
Just live the Now.
Now, putting the pen down.
Now, folding the paper just right.
Now, breathing in.
Now, rising in all the moonlight
and walking with his shadow

from this room
to the next.

"The Priest Writes His Desire" by Jessie Dolch. No other bibliographic information available.

Photographic credit: Unknown (originally color).


Friday, February 8, 2013

e.e. cummings: "Seeker of Truth"

seeker of truth

follow no path
all paths lead where

truth is here

"Seeker of Truth" by e.e. cummings, from E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems, 1904-1962. © Liveright, 1994.

Photograph credit: Unknown (originally color).


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dorothy Walters: "Taken"

you must let your heart
be broken open
in a way you have never
felt before,
cannot imagine.

You will
not know if what you are
is anguish or joy,
something predestined
or merely old wounds
flowing once more,
reminders of all that is
unfinished in your life.

will flood into
your chest
like air sweetened by
desert honeysuckle,
love that is too

You will stand there,
very still,
not seeing what this is.
Later, you will not remember
any of this
until the next time
when you will say,
yes, yes, I have known this before,
it has come again,
just as your eyes fold under
once more.

"Taken" by Dorothy Walters, from A Cloth of Fine Gold: Poems of the Inner Journey. © Lulu Press, 1998.

Photograph: Detail from color image by unknown photographer.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Denise Levertov: "Variation on a Theme by Rilke"

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me—a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day's blow
rang out, metallic—or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.

"Variation on a Theme by Rilke" by Denise Levertov, from Breathing the Water. © New Directions Publishing, 1987.

Photograph: Detail of "The Accolade," oil on canvas painting by Edmund Blair-Leighton (originally color).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mark Strand: "Lines for Winter"

for Ros Krauss

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

"Lines for Winter" by Mark Strand, from The Late Hour. © Atheneum, 1978.

Photograph: "Winter's Moon," by Laurinda Bowling (originally color).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pedro Salinas: "Wake Up. Day Calls You"

Wake up. Day calls you
to your life: your duty.
And to live, nothing more.
Root it out of the glum
night and the darkness
that covered your body
for which light waited
on tiptoe in the dawn.
Stand up, affirm the straight
simple will to be
a pure slender virgin.
Test your body's metal.
Cold, heat? Your blood
will tell against the snow,
or behind the window.
The colour
in your cheeks will tell.
And look at people. Rest
doing no more than adding
your perfection to another
day. Your task
is to carry your life high,
and play with it, hurl it
like a voice to the clouds
so it may retrieve the light
already gone from us.
That is your fate: to live.
Do nothing.
Your work is you, nothing more.

"Wake Up. Day Calls You" by Pedro Salinas, from My Voice Because of You, translated by Willis Barnstone. © State University of New York Press, 1977.

Photograph: "An Empty Bed in an Empty Room," by aimeelikestotakepics (originally color).